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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Alborada del gracioso pour orchestre, M.43 (orch. 1918-1919) [7:51]
Le Tombeau de Couperin: 6 pièces pour piano deux mains, M. 68 (1914-1917) [25:52]
Piano Concerto in G major, M. 83 (1929-1931) [22:20]
Le Tombeau de Couperin: Suite d’orchestre, M. 68a (orch. 1919) [17:44]
Alborada del gracioso pour piano (1904-1905) [7:09]
Javier Perianes (piano)
Orchestre de Paris/Josep Pons
rec. 2017/18, Philharmonie de Paris (orchestrations & concerto); Sala Unicaja Maria Cristine, Malaga (solo pieces)
Reviewed as a 24/48 download from eClassical
Pdf booklet included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902326 [81:05]

The Spanish pianist Javier Perianes first came to my notice via an altogether splendid recording of the Grieg piano concerto and Lyric Pieces (Harmonia Mundi). Unsurprisingly, I signed-off my review by suggesting this native of Nerva was an artist to watch. In particular, I was struck by how assured he is in both the large work - ably supported by Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony - and its more intimate companions. Indeed, Richard Hanlon awarded Perianes’ recent Debussy recital a ‘Recommended’ tag. Happily, I have this pianist’s España! album tucked away on my hard drive, awaiting review.

It’s heartening to find the Orchestre de Paris in such good form, conductor Josep Pons leading them in a crisp, rhythmically alert performance of Alborada del gracioso. HM’s René Möller has gone for quite a big sound here, which may emphasise the bass drum a little too much. Still, the lovely woodwinds are well caught, and there’s plenty of excitement, too.

The contrast between the Philharmonie de Paris, where the orchestrations and concerto were recorded, and the studio in Malaga, where the solo works were set down, could hardly be greater. As for the original piano version of Le Tombeau, Ravel’s hommage to the 17th-century composer Louis Couperin, it’s surely one of his most attractive and affectionate creations. His yoking of baroque dance forms with modern, jazz-inspired writing is just astonishing. In ‘Forlane’, for instance, Perianes modulates between the two periods with a fluidity that even the admirable Steven Osborne can’t match (Hyperion). More important, there’s a grace and delicacy to the Spaniard’s playing that’s spellbinding. He’s also suitably animated in ‘Toccata’, Ravel’s jewelled, sometimes bell-like sound world perfectly rendered. It helps that all these felicities are so well caught by Julian Schwenkner’s warm, finely detailed recording.

Sticking with HM’s order of play, we’re catapulted from the antic rigour of a distant century to the artistic hothouse that was Paris in the Roaring Twenties. As expected, Perianes delivers a thoughtful, highly expressive account of the concerto, Pons and his players in rapt attendance throughout. Some may prefer Deutsche Grammophon’s pairing of Pierre Boulez and Krystian Zimerman in this piece, the Cleveland Orchestra at their edgy, metropolitan best, but I was utterly seduced by the revealing restraint of this newcomer. Quite simply, Perianes opts for depth over dazzle, infusing the music with freshness and feeling. Thereafter, conductor and soloist are as one in the limpid central movement, which is most beautifully framed. (And what a lovely, immersive sound.) The sparkling finale is a delight, too, the bass drum in Möller’s recording rather more discreet this time around.

Moving on, Pons and his Parisians give a wonderfully transparent performance of Le Tombeau, as orchestrated by the composer in 1919. However, the piano original is such a trove of musical treasures that replicating its complex colour palette and subtle shadings seems well nigh impossible. Then again, Ravel was a master orchestrator, and it shows in every burnished bar. True, those charming baroqueries aren’t quite as alluring in this version, but the conductor’s light touch - combined with deft, ‘hear-through’ sound - makes for a most rewarding listen.

Finally, we’re back in Malaga for the original Alborada del gracioso, one of the best-known sections from Miroirs (1904/5). As so often, the Spaniard’s phrasal flair and keen ear for colour and nuance are very much in evidence. (What an intuitive performer he is, and how open hearted.) And while I wouldn’t want to be without Osborne’s forensic pianism in the solos or the scintillating Boulez/Zimerman in the concerto, Pons and Perianes’ softer, more considered approach offers unexpected rewards. So much so, I’ve now placed this illuminating newcomer high on my list of favourite Ravel recordings.

A gorgeous album, pianist, conductor and orchestra at their beguiling best; fine sound, too.

Dan Morgan

Previous review: John Quinn (Recording of the Month)

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